Aerial drone cover crop planting

Successful aerial drone seeding ... The photo above was taken March 11, 2021 and shows excellent germination as a result of aerial seeding. Submitted photo.

Harpers Ferry farmer Jon Kruse utilized a unique method of planting cover crops this past fall - a drone. September 16, Kruse hired a private contractor, to fly a drone over standing soybeans to seed red clover as a cover crop.

Aerial cover crop application is growing in popularity across Iowa because of the upsides. A big advantage of aerial seeding is that more acres can be seeded in less time than with ground equipment. Aerial application also allows seeding to be done when it is physically impossible to use ground equipment such as when crops are present, or the soil is too wet for regular equipment.

Kruse has multiple goals for the red clover cover crop: Initially, for erosion control, but also to fix nitrogen for this year’s corn crop and to help control weeds. He seeded 10 lbs. per acre of red clover into 9.5 acres of standing soybeans. Kruse intends to let the red clover grow for as long as possible this spring and is anticipating only one spray pass for cover crop termination and weed control. He hasn’t determined yet how much nitrogen credit to give for the clover but is considering up to 50 lbs. Kruse is also considering banding herbicide ahead of the corn rows and leaving the red clover in the inter-row for erosion and weed control.

Initial stand counts taken October 2 showed 50 plants per sq. foot emerged from the seeding. Kruse is happy with the stand and has high hopes for the spring growth. He is also considering trying frost seeding with a drone in the future to compare differences in emergence and overall growth.